I never saw the statue of Haig that they put up in Montreuil-sur-Mer, that sweet township of the Pas de Calais where G.H.Q,. was situated behind its ramparts on the hill above the green swiftly flowing Canche, but I often saw the field marshal ride out through the octroi barrier, one with his horse like a centaur, a posse of lancers behind him, with their pennons undulant and wickering in the winter air, towards his chateau outside the town.
Suchlike fugitive pictures streaming through the backward-looking reminiscent mind are all that I shall here recapture: Aldershot in the late lovely autumn of that year, with route-marches through days whose air was winy, over the heaths and through the bracken and silver birches of Hampshire; the departure through a winter night to Havre; our sojourn there, at the canvas camp on the hill overlooking Harfleur in bitter winter weather; Rouen, with every niche and cornice of the beautiful church of St Ouen inlaid with snow; and so, by and by, to St Omer, where G.H.Q,. then was.
I was employed by the (a) department of Intelligence, which was then commanded by Brigadier-General John Charteris, a robust and bustling, loud-shouting, very human person. Our work was clerkly and mechanical, tedious and deadly boring: typing and filing all day long. Never was the King's uniform worn by less heroic persons.
There was something endearing about that grey old town in the plain: a plain criss-crossed with little canals that wound their way through market gardens; and every garden had its heavy clumsy punt for the bringing of stuff to market. We hired these punts - for the French lent nothing: each item of service had its price.
So we forked out our francs for the punts on our times off, and meandered through the grey fenny country, finding here
and there an island pub where hot red wine and bread and fried potatoes made the sort of repast that seems in retrospect to have been admirable. Then back to our typewriters; to the everlasting "Summary of Intelligence" and the filing of that vast conglomeration of reports that poured in daily: from spies, from newspapers, from air observation, from prisoners' stories.
All through this time, I was doing what I had been doing as a newspaper reporter: I was a detached observer of a life in which I had no essential participation. Dullness without danger; an occasional heightening of excitement at second hand. In a regular routine fashion, all of us clerks were "mentioned in despatches" and awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, just as the junior officers were awarded the M.C. and the seniors the D.S.O. It was routine. If it fooled anybody, I don't think it fooled us - neither the M.S.M.s nor the D.S.O.s. I have always thought that if medals are to be awarded for the sort of work we did - whether to the junior clerks, who are the privates and corporals, or to the departmental managers, who are colonels and brigadier-generals - they should not be the same decorations as those awarded for service in the field. The only time my own life was near danger was on November 11th, 1918, when some
Scottish troops blazed off a feu de joie, and a bullet passed in at one wall and out at another of a small canvas hut which I lived in.